[This article by Ding Qingfen and Li Xiaokun appeared in China Daily, 14 August 2012. –CanKor]
Trip may signal move to boost battered economy, experts say.A delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is visiting Beijing to hold talks with officials on economic and trade ties, sources told China Daily.
Specialists in Korean Peninsula affairs said the visit will play a crucial part in improving the DPRK economy following food shortages and severe flooding.
Members of the delegation will attend a conference on Tuesday, sources said, covering the two DPRK special economic zones involving both countries.
One of the DPRK special economic zones is in Rason, and the other is located on the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands.
The delegation is also expected to visit Liaoning and Jilin, two border provinces.
Jang Song-thaek, vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK, is leading the delegation, a source said on condition of anonymity.
The visit comes after reports that the DPRK is ready to launch economic and agricultural initiatives.
It also follows closely on an official visit to Pyongyang by Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. During Wang’s visit, DPRK leader Kim Jong-un said that “developing the economy and improving people’s livelihood so that the Korean people lead happy and civilized lives is the goal the Korean Workers’ Party is working toward”.
Experts said Jang’s visit marks part of the DPRK’s reportedly new national strategy to reform its economy.
“Economic issues will undoubtedly be a key topic of the visit”, given the recent series of moves taken by the DPRK, said Fan Jishe, a specialist in Korean Peninsula studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“But it is not only about strengthening China-DPRK economic and trade relations, but is also part of the DPRK’s new measures in growing its economy under the new leadership,” he explained.
Earlier this month, Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, paid a three-day visit to Vietnam.
In addition to the food shortage and sanctions by foreign nations, Fan said, the DPRK’s economy is further challenged by recent floods.
DPRK: Economy appears higher on agenda
The death toll from floods in the DPRK has risen to 169, while 400 others are missing, the Korean Central News Agency reported on Saturday.
In May 2010, during a visit to China, former DPRK leader Kim Jong-il agreed to set up two special economic zones in the DPRK, with one in the small port of Rason on the east coast near Northeast China’s Jilin province, and the other in the west on Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands near the Chinese city of Dandong, Liaoning province.
Fan said he believed that “Kim Jong-un is and will be following his father’s policy in valuing and consolidating economic relations with China”.
Kim Jong-un has yet to visit Beijing. His father was a frequent visitor to China in his later years. But the junior Kim told Wang that it is the “unswerving will” of the DPRK to follow Kim Jong-il’s teaching on constantly deepening the traditional friendship between the DPRK and China through the generations.
According to the General Administration of Customs of China, in 2010, trade between China and the DPRK surged by 29.6 percent from 2009 to $3.5 billion.
China’s imports from the DPRK in 2010 surged by 50.6 percent to $1.2 billion, and exports to the DPRK grew 20.8 percent to $2.3 billion.
Statistics by the United Nations show Chinese investment in the DPRK grew from $1.5 million in 2002 to about $42 million in 2008.
Zhang Liangui, a specialist on Korean Peninsula studies at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said the visit led by Jang could be significant.
Although the visit itself mainly targets economic cooperation, Zhang said: “The DPRK may now shift focus and try to alleviate pressure from the outside on the nuclear issue through diplomatic and economic activities”.
Pyongyang said in June that it will further bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense as long as the United States persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, when denouncing the largest ever joint live-fire drill between the US and the Republic of Korea.